The Still Life: Seeing Nature A New Way
While walking with Mary Jo Hoffman as she gathers bits of nature to photograph for her popular blog, Still, my eyes rocket to a fiery sumac bush ahead. Mary Jo slows my quickening steps with seasoned advice. "Fall is too easy, and the leaves draw so much attention, I sometimes have to look away," she cautions. "I could just grab a branch of that maple, and it'd be gorgeous, and I'd be done. But February and March get really hard, and those months taught me to look more carefully every day of the year."
And so Mary Jo focuses on the quieter moments as well, picking up a broken walnut shell here ("Just look at the little nicks all around the edges!") and the lacy frond of a woodland fern there. In September's mellow sunlight, we hit the pause button and appreciate the powerful effect of looking closer to see one thing at a time.
Such is the mission of Still (stillblog.net), which this former aerospace engineer launched in 2012. Each day, she publishes a single bold image gathered from nature. Many finds come from the wooded Minneapolis acre she shares with husband Steve, their two kids, some chickens and a puggle named Jack; others come from area lake trails like the one we're on today.
Back home, our bounty tumbles onto the kitchen counter. Because they're likely to wilt, the fronds trump all to become today's arrestingly graphic image in Still's ever-growing archive.
"Once I post something, I wonder where it will land," Mary Jo says. This morning she had an image request from Austria; Target and West Elm have also come calling.
"Probably no one is more surprised about the blog's success than I am," Mary Jo says. "I walk my dog with my eyes open. It's that simple."
Try this at home
Inspired to create your own nature tableaux? Mary Jo shares some favorite tips:
• For photos, grab white paper or tagboard and a simple camera. A tripod is nice, not essential.
- When shooting a single specimen, try an unusual angle, like the back of a flower.
- After years of shooting, Mary Jo gravitates to three arrangements: grids, lines and circles.
- Shake up formality. "A little bit of order among the chaos is captivating," she says.
- Wanting just a hint of shadow, Mary Jo often shoots by a north-facing window with a light diffuser in front of it.
- Prop your subject off the background even just a bit to get a softer shadow.
• For displays of small items, such as the one at left, keep the focus on nature with clean-lined frames, white mats, clear vases and acrylic boxes.
The Big PIcture
• Affordably enlarge your photos as gallery-quality ink-jet prints (up to 40x60 inches) at artifactuprising.com.
More of Her Work